Charles Mingus

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In my music, I'm trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it's difficult is because I'm changing all the time.

Charles Mingus (22 April 19225 January 1979) was an American jazz bassist, composer, bandleader, and occasional pianist also known for his activism against racial injustice.

Quotes[edit]

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.
What do you think happens to a composer who is sincere and loves to write and has to wait thirty years to have someone play a piece of his music?
  • Good jazz is when the leader jumps on the piano, waves his arms, and yells. Fine jazz is when a tenorman lifts his foot in the air. Great jazz is when he heaves a piercing note for 32 bars and collapses on his hands and knees. A pure genius of jazz is manifested when he and the rest of the orchestra run around the room while the rhythm section grimaces and dances around their instruments.
    • Quoted in "What'd I Say?" : The Atlantic Story : 50 Years of Music (2001) by Ahmet M. Ertegun; also partially quoted in What Is This Thing Called Jazz?: African American Musicians As Artists, Critics, and Activists (2002) by Eric C. Porter, p. 118, and Freedom Is, Freedom Ain't: Jazz And the Making of the Sixties (2005) by Scott Saul, p. 154
  • Ladies and gentlemen, please don't associate me with any of this. This is not jazz. These are sick people.
    • After angry altercations at a reunion gig (4 March 1955), as quoted in Myself When I Am Real : The Life and Music of Charles Mingus (2001) by Gene Santoro; Bud Powell was reportedly drunk, smashed the keyboard and walked off stage, and Charlie Parker stood at the microphone calling: "Bud Powell, Bud Powell." A week later Parker was dead of cirrhosis of the liver.
  • My son's a painter. All through school his teachers tell him he's a genius. I tell him to paint me an apple that looks like and apple before he paints me one that doesn't. Go where you can go, but start from someplace recognizable. Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.
    • Statement in Mainliner (July 1977), as quoted in Creativity and the writing process (1982) by Olivia Bertagnolli, p. 182; also partly quoted in Survival Skills for Managers (1981) by Marlene Wilson, p. 19
    • Variant: Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.
      • As quoted in The Evaluation and Treatment of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (1999) by Nils R. Varney and Richard J. Roberts, p. 303
  • In my music, I'm trying to play the truth of what I am. The reason it's difficult is because I'm changing all the time.
    • Statement to Nat Hentoff , as quoted in California Rock, California Sound : The Music of Los Angeles and Southern California (1979) by Anthony Fawcett, p. 56; also in “Jazz : Beyond Time and Nations” in The Nat Hentoff Reader (2001), Part 2 : The Passion of Creation, p. 99
  • That sound in tune to you? … Sounds sharp to me. Sounds like I'm playing sharp all the time. My singing teacher told us you should do that. Maybe I got it from her. She said singers when they grow old have a tendency to go flat. So if you sing sharp as a young person, as you get older and go flat, you'll be in tune. In other words, it's never thought good to be flat. It means you can't get to the tone.
    • Listening to a long solo on Mingus at Montery, as quoted in Mingus/Mingus : Two Memoirs (1989) by Janet Coleman and Al Young, p. 10
  • Since the white man says he came from the evolution of animals, well, maybe the black man didn't. The white man has made so many errors in the handling of people that maybe he did come from a gorilla or a fish and crawl up on the sand and then into the trees. Of course, evolution doesn't take God into consideration. I don't think people learned to do all the things they do through evolution.
    • As quoted in More Than A Fakebook : The Music Of Charles Mingus (1991) by Andrew Homzy
  • What do you think happens to a composer who is sincere and loves to write and has to wait thirty years to have someone play a piece of his music? Had I been born in a different country or had I been born white, I am sure I would have expressed my ideas long ago. Maybe they wouldn't have been as good because when people are born free — I can't imagine it, but I've got a feeling that if it's so easy for you — the struggle and the initiative are not as strong as they are for a person who has to struggle and therefore has more to say.
    • As quoted in Setting the Tempo : Fifty Years of Great Jazz Liner Notes (1996) by Tom Piazza. p. 339

An Open Letter To Miles Davis (1955)[edit]

Dave is the swingingest by your own definition, Miles, because at Newport and elsewhere Dave had the whole house patting its feet and even clapping its hands....
Downbeat magazine (30 November 1955)
  • It seems so hard for some of us to grow up mentally just enough to realize that there are other persons of flesh and bone, just like us, on this great, big earth. And if they don't ever stand still, move, or "swing," they are as right as we are, even if they are as wrong as hell by our standards. Yes, Miles, I am apologizing for my stupid "Blindfold Test." I can do it gladly because I'm learning a little something. No matter how much they try to say that Brubeck doesn't swing — or whatever else they're stewing or whoever else they're brewing — it's factually unimportant.
    Not because Dave made Time magazine — and a dollar — but mainly because Dave honestly thinks he's swinging. He feels a certain pulse and plays a certain pulse which gives him pleasure and a sense of exaltation because he's sincerely doing something the way he, Dave Brubeck, feels like doing it. And as you said in your story, Miles, "if a guy makes you pat your foot, and if you feel it down your back, etc.," then Dave is the swingingest by your own definition, Miles, because at Newport and elsewhere Dave had the whole house patting its feet and even clapping its hands....
  • I think my own way. I don't think like you and my music isn't meant just for the patting of feet and going down backs. When and if I feel gay and carefree, I write or play that way. When I feel angry I write or play that way — or when I'm happy, or depressed, even.
    Just because I'm playing jazz I don't forget about me. I play or write me, the way I feel, through jazz, or whatever. Music is, or was, a language of the emotions. If someone has been escaping reality, I don't expect him to dig my music, and I would begin to worry about my writing if such a person began to really like it. My music is alive and it's about the living and the dead, about good and evil. It's angry, yet it's real because it knows it's angry.

What Is A Jazz Composer? (1971)[edit]

Liner notes for Let My Children Hear Music (1971)
  • Each jazz musician when he takes a horn in his hand — trumpet, bass, saxophone, drums — whatever instrument he plays — each soloist, that is, when he begins to ad lib on a given composition with a title and improvise a new creative melody, this man is taking the place of a composer.
  • Now, whether there is feeling or not depends upon what your environment or your association is or whatever you may have in common with the player. If you feel empathy for his personal outlook, you naturally feel him musically more than some other environmental and musical opposite who is, in a way. beyond you.
    I, myself, came to enjoy the players who didn't only just swing but who invented new rhythmic patterns, along with new melodic concepts. And those people are: Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Parker, who is the greatest genius of all to me because he changed the whole era around. But there is no need to compare composers. If you like Beethoven, Bach or Brahms, that's okay. They were all pencil composers. I always wanted to be a spontaneous composer. I thought I was, although no one's mentioned that. I mean critics or musicians. Now, what I'm getting at is that I know I'm a composer. I marvel at composition, at people who are able to take diatonic scales, chromatics, 12-tone scales, or even quarter-tone scales. I admire anyone who can come up with something original. But not originality alone, because there can be originality in stupidity, with no musical description of any emotion or any beauty the man has seen, or any kind of life he has lived.
  • Each jazz musician is supposed to be a composer. Whether he is or not, I don't know. I don't listen to that many people. If I did, I probably wouldn't play half as much to satisfy myself. As a youth I read a book by Debussy and he said that as soon as he finished a composition he had to forget it because it got in the way of his doing anything else new and different. And I believed him. I used to work with Tatum, and Tatum knew every tune written, including the classics, and I think it got in the way of his composition, because he wasn't a Bud Powell. He wasn't as melodically inventive as Bud. He was technically flashy and he knew so much music and so much theory that he couldn't come up with anything wrong; it was just exercising his theory.
  • Let my children have music! Let them hear live music. Not noise. My children! You do what you want with your own!

Quotes about Mingus[edit]

  • Mingus was always a disaster to have around. I loved him, but he was worse than a child. He didn't know how to clean up behind himself. He could cook, but there would be eggs on the floor and the ceiling. Couldn't find his shoes when he had to go to work, didn't have a white shirt, couldn't write a check. All he could really do was play the bass and write.
    • Buddy Collette, as quoted in Central Avenue Sounds (1998), edited by Clora Bryant.

External links[edit]

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